The Victor Stello, Jr. Award for Safety Leadership

The Victor Stello, Jr. Award was established by the DNFSB to be given to an employee of the Department of Energy who demonstrates exemplary leadership in promoting safety management in the DOE defense nuclear complex. The award honors Victor Stello, Jr., Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Safety and Quality, Office of Defense Programs at DOE, in recognition of his outstanding service, exemplary performance and admirable leadership in promoting public health and safety in the Atomic Energy Defense Activities of the United States.

Current Recipient

Dr. Robert "Bob" C. Nelson

Dr. Robert C. Nelson was recognized for his noble acts of service during his many years of expertise in nuclear safety.

During his extensive career with the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Environmental Management, Dr. Robert C. Nelson was a consistent and persistent leader in addressing safety issues across multiple areas of expertise, in most cases involving complex issues and difficult decisions that led to a safer, more robust defense nuclear complex.

For example, as the Chief Safety Officer and federal lead for drafting DOE Standard 5506, Preparation of Safety Basis Documents for Transuranic (TRU) Waste Facilities, Dr. Nelson tirelessly led the broad spectrum of DOE, Board, and contractor entities with a deep and abiding concern for the contents of this foundational document to ensure that the revised standard incorporated positive safety updates. Dr. Nelson led the standard writing team to incorporate requirements to address feedback brought to light during the last ten years of TRU waste operations, including the need for chemical compatibility evaluations to identify potential hazardous chemical reactions, higher release fractions for calculating potential consequences from energetic chemical reactions, and additional controls for the amount and distribution of radioactive material at risk. Rigorous implementation of the revised standard will prevent radiological release events like those that occurred in February 2014 at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and in April 2018 at the Idaho National Laboratory.

Dr. Nelson served as the primary subject matter expert supporting DOE panelists at the Board’s public hearing on safety management of waste storage and processing in the defense nuclear facilities complex in June 2019. At the hearing, DOE management committed to creating a department-wide Operational Experience Document on the Idaho National Laboratory radiological release event. Dr. Nelson took the lead in drafting the Operational Experience Document, which required that radioactive and mixed waste generation and storage sites identify and control waste drums that could be at risk for an over-pressurization accident.

Dr. Nelson was regularly sought out by the Board and DOE to apply his expertise in nuclear safety by providing unbiased oversight and detailed technical support. In this role he led broad initiatives as well as focused reviews of safety controls. Dr. Nelson was instrumental in developing nuclear safety and design requirements for active confinement ventilation systems in response to the Board’s Recommendation 2004-2, Active Confinement Systems. His knowledge and expertise resulted in a set of fundamental requirements for active confinement systems that are codified in DOE Order 420.1, Facility Safety, to ensure they provide a reliable final layer of protection to the public in the unlikely event of a radiological release in a defense nuclear facility.

Dr. Nelson also championed numerous experimental campaigns to better assess the performance of various waste containers in fire scenarios. Dr. Nelson actively solicited feedback from all interested parties to ensure the testing was thorough and defensible. His dogged persistence in completing these experiments led to concrete safety improvements in the complex by providing technically defensible parameters for analyzing the hazards associated with waste containers. Through these efforts, Dr. Nelson provided valuable insight to better ensure the safety of the public and workers across the complex. From the beginning, Dr. Nelson’s path was about serving his country; starting with his military career as 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force and rising up the ranks and retiring as a Lt Colonel.  He continued his admiration for public health and safety at the Department of Energy where he served many years as a trusted advisor and subject matter expert on all things pertaining to nuclear safety. He was a trusted champion for safety; always providing his unbiased feedback. His leadership and expertise influenced a numerous amount of safety improvement; not just for the public, but for the employees at several nuclear complexes. He was always a supportive leader of DNFSB’s mission, and for that, we appreciate and honor him today.

Dr. Robert Nelson was an excellent example of collaboration, technical capability, and commitment to safety. He exemplified those qualities for which the Victor Stello, Jr., Award for Safety Leadership was intended and is worthy of this special recognition.

A more narrowly focused case saw DOE’s Chief of Nuclear Safety call on him to resolve safety issues the Board had raised regarding the adequacy of safety controls to prevent a detonation or deflagration in the 242-A High-Level Waste Evaporator at the Hanford Site. Dr. Nelson has also led multiple readiness reviews, chaired myriad investigations and inquiries, and supported dozens of implementation plans developed in response to Board recommendations, always demanding that both he and his teams maintain the highest standards.

The Board regards the assignment of a technically competent and highly motivated individual to be an essential element in solving complex safety issues within the DOE defense nuclear facilities complex. Dr. Robert Nelson has distinguished himself as an excellent example of collaboration, technical capability, and commitment to safety. He has exemplified those qualities for which the Victor Stello, Jr., Award for Safety Leadership was intended and is well deserving of this special recognition.

Past Recipients

Image of Doctor Robert C. Nelson's wife receiving the Victor J. Stello Junior Award for Safety Leadership on behalf of her husband.